A District Court Judge in Baltimore today dismissed a prominent landlord's case for damages against blogger Carol Ott, who writes the Housing Policy Watch blog (and "Slumlord Watch.")
"There was a ruling in favor of the defendant," says Brian Spern, the lawyer for the plaintiff, two limited liability companies tied to Stanley Rochkind, who owns or controls many buildings in the city and has fought lead-paint liability lawsuits for years. He says an appeal "is available to us. But at this point I have no comment."
The companies sued Ott last year for damages relating to two murals that were painted on Rochkind-controlled buildings. Dubbed the "Wall Hunters Project," the murals—by noted street artists—brought national press attention to Baltimore's blighted housing and some of the tenants within and the neighbors who live with it. City Paper wrote about the project last year.
One of Rochkind's employees claimed one of the murals, depicting the Exodus, was anti-Semitic. He also told a Baltimore Sun reporter that Rochkind did not own the building it was painted on, 4727 Old York Road. Land records say otherwise.
Ott says District Judge Keith Mathews took the case seriously and seemed open to hearing both sides. She says Spern presented the plaintiff's case, using Charles "Bud" Runkles—a longtime Rochkind business associate—as the main witness.
"His whole thing was he read something on my blog and something on the internet that upset him, which is why [repainting his buildings] is my responsibility," Ott says. "The judge did not agree and so that is why he dismissed the case. I never got to say anything and neither did the witness for our side. They sort of did themselves in."
Spern confirms that Mathews dismissed the action "after the plaintiffs rested." He says the judge did not explain his reasoning or issue any written decision, which is par for the course in district court.
Ott says she is happy the suit is over, but she wishes she had a chance to make her case. "One of the great things about our judicial system is you get to look your accuser in the eye and say things that are important for that person to hear," Ott says.